Statement: Professor Jeffrey Ullman’s discriminatory comments against students

Last month the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) gave the Turing Award, the most prestigious award in computer science, to professors Jeffrey Ullman and Alfred Vaino Aho. Code.org promoted this award on social media to our followers.

We have since learned that professor Ullman has a long history of discriminatory comments against Iranians.

Ullman very recently deleted his “Answers to All Questions Iranian” in which he refers to Iranians as “Islamic terrorists.” He also dismisses the historic plight of Native Americans as “the way things happen.” Despite complaints, he kept these statements public for 15 years.

Ullman also wrote, “I will not help Iranian students until Iran recognizes and respects Israel as the land of the Jewish people. I know that you may not hold the same insane position as the mullahs that run your country, but it is a matter of principle. If Iranians want the benefits of Stanford and other institutions in the US, they have to respect the values we hold in the US, including freedom of religion and respect for human rights.”

There are many valid debates about the right or wrong actions of governments, but it is wrong to hold all students accountable for the actions of a government.

At Code.org, it is our mission that every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, identity, family income, neighborhood, or where they are from. This is written in our values.

While the ACM has attempted to distance itself from Ullman’s offensive comments, we believe the ACM can do more and revisit its decision to bestow Ullman its highest award.

The $1 million Turing Award is named after Alan Turing, the famous mathematician who himself suffered considerable discrimination for his homosexuality.

There are many times that Code.org may not take a stance on issues outside our core focus. But we cannot stay silent on the issue of discrimination in computer science, which is core to our mission.

Today, we join computer scientists from around the world to call on the ACM to revisit its criteria for granting this Turing Award. Read the open letter and add your name.

We have also deleted our social media posts congratulating professor Ullman. We continue to applaud professor Alfred Vaino Aho for his accomplishments in computer science.

-The Code.org Team

Code.org® is dedicated to expanding access to computer science increasing participation by young women and students from other underrepresented groups.